THE UNCANNY VALLEY IS STRONG WITH THIS ONE.
I’ve learned a few things in my time as an old hermit. Chief amongst them is thinking about a Star Wars movie in depth before voicing what you think of it as a whole. It’s something that takes great willpower, as Star Wars is something that surrounds us and binds us, much like the power of the Force itself. But the power of first impressions when leaving a crowded theater is easy, more seductive. You may want to scream out your final opinion! You may want to pull a Kevin Smith and say, “Is Attack of the Clones better than The Phantom Menace? I can say so with an emphatic YES.” and then look like a silly fool! But resist, and never give a Star Wars movie a score immediately afterwards. Never.
When leaving The Force Awakens, my friends looked at me in silence. “Well?” I stared into the night sky and finally said, “I’m not sure.” as I faded into the dark. It took me seeing that one a few more times before I settled on an opinion. I ended up with the stance that I loved the new characters and it was great seeing the old ones. The plot was a retread of A New Hope and ugh Starkiller base and the rushed plan to destroy it, but yay! the lightsaber duel in the snow as the base begins to destruct and Luke.
But after two hours of introspection… What did I think about Rogue One: A Star Wars Story? Here’s my spoiler free thoughts.
After the prologue of Rogue One ends the following ten minutes takes place in about as many locations. It’s jarring and the speed of which things move is too compared to other Star Wars films. There’s no real need for there to be so many locations and all are weird alien names.
Rogue One doesn’t settle down until Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) and Captain Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) are on the desert winter moon of Jedha, a site for pilgrims from across the galaxy who seek spiritual guidance and once a place important to the Jedi as we see in fallen statues. Here’s where they recruit the rest of their squad of misfits: Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) a former Imperial pilot, and two Guardians of the Whills in the duo of Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang) who carries a version of a mini-gun laser blaster equipped with a giant energy tank on his back and Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen), a blind man who believes in the Force more so than anyone in Rogue One.
Chirrut Îmwe, accompanied by Baze’s covering fire, steal much of the show. Îmwe is a complete badass. At one point, he casually takes his staff and opens it up, pulls it back almost like a bow to arm it as a blaster rifle, and proceeds to shoot a TIE fighter out of the sky with one shot.
If he wasn’t a Jedi in the days before the Empire then I’ll drink a whole thing of that blue milk.
This is a great role for legendary martial artist, Donnie Yen. The only other character he’s showed up by is the reprogrammed Imperial droid, K-2SO played by Alan Tudyk. He’s hilarious and different from anything we’ve seen in the Star Wars movies to date. Without his comedic relief, often in dire situations, Rogue One would be hard to get through at times.
We’re all aware that the mission of these characters is suicide. They’re a small group going head to head against the Galactic Empire in their prime of power. Rogue One doesn’t sugar coat this as I thought it may. People die in this story and they certainly aren’t coming back. But count me in for the Chirrut Îmwe: A Star Wars Story prequel.
The last 45 minutes are some of the best sequences we’ve seen from any of the Star Wars films, what’s conflicting is that everything that’s lead up to that feels slightly off.
Not that it’s bad, but something isn’t connecting how it should. I think a big part of that is the lackluster score by Michael Giacchino. Giacchino was one of my favorite composers of recent years having given us themes for LOST, The Incredibles, Speed Racer, and Star Trek. But lately his scores have fallen into the James Horner pattern of repeating themselves (Horner’s Wrath of Khan theme is almost identical to his score for Aliens).
Listen to his latest score for Doctor Strange (skip to the 2:15 mark) and compare it to the rebooted Star Trek theme (skip to the :42 mark). However, his biggest problem with his first score for a Star Wars movie (I’m sure he’ll do more) is that it barely resembles anything. There’s elements of the Star Wars themes, but overall it’s too bombastic and generic.
In a movie where I see the Death Star and the Empire at it’s full strength you bet your ass that we should hear the Imperial March and not this stuff that flirts with giving you the hint of it. This isn’t foreplay, this is the show.
One thing that I can’t get past no matter how I come at it is the fan service.
There’s so much of it in Rogue One that it pulls you out of the story that’s supposed to be dramatic, but when you see it then you can’t help but be excited or laugh or talk to your friend about seeing the same X-Wing pilot from A New Hope. It’s fan service is a disservice to the story it’s telling. But let’s get into specifics…
FROM THIS POINT ON I WILL DISCUSS SPOILERS. YOU’VE BEEN WARNED. MANY BOTHANS DIED TO BRING US THIS.
Just kidding, Bothans weren’t mentioned in this movie at all. Not one damn time! Probably because they stole the plans for the SECOND Death Star and not this first one.
There also wasn’t a title crawl. This threw a lot of people off. I’m sure it was the topic of much debate amongst the people who made this, but again, something felt off about it.
Grand Moff Tarkin is in Rogue One. A lot. I thought at first they would only use his reflection and have him in one or two scenes like this, but I was wrong. They use the likeness of Peter Cushing who passed away in 1994 for at least five minutes of screen time and it isn’t quite right. You can tell he’s not real, but he’s damn close to being real. This is pure uncanny valley territory here. It’s even more bizarre seeing Princess Leia like this at the end of the film. A simple shot of her covering her face and showing those buns, buns of hair I mean! That would have been enough to clue you in if it wasn’t already obvious enough. R2 could have been rolling towards her and just as the camera raises, he’s close enough to her to show her face is covered. It works better and avoids the creepiness of the de-aging CG that was used.
We also have a scene where there is more CGI trickery used to make a Rebel pilot look like one from A New Hope, but then really jarringly we see another pilot that was also in A New Hope, but his surroundings look like a scene directly lifted from the original movie. This really pulls you out of the story and the moment, not to mention robs you of any dramatic tension as we know these characters actually don’t die yet.
We also have other nods like the Mos Eisley thugs that met their demise at Old Ben’s lightsaber. They literally bump into a character and repeat the same lines they did in 1977. At this rate I was waiting for Alden Ehrenreich to show up and say, “I’m a scoundrel who loves to shoot first. I KNOW.” But I guess we’ll have to do with R2 and Threepio instead.
These nods are honestly the worst. I would have been okay with seeing a character in the background, but not directly like we had multiple times here. At one point we here someone talk to Captain Antilles offscreen and that’s the perfect type of Easter egg.
What’s really good though is that last 45 minutes. Battles on land and in space, and an example of why Darth Vader was feared across the galaxy.
When characters start dying quickly left and right you get the sense that nobody is going to make it. This is where this Star Wars story begins to shine and hit the way it should. They’ve accomplished their goal, but nothing else. Baze holding his fellow Guardian of the Whills repeating his mantra of, “I’m one with the Force. The Force is one with me.” is one of the better moments and I’ll be damned if I didn’t think that Îmwe wasn’t about to fade into the Force like Yoda and Ben did. Jyn and Cassian holding each other as the tidal wave of fire at the hands of the Death Star blast was a great visual that was both inspiring and saddening as war is. The scene that proceeded where they almost kissed was groan worthy though.
The scene that will have everyone talking though is the Darth Vader attack. You hear his breathing in the shadows and then his lightsaber ignites, bathing the corridor in red. Dozens of Rebel troops fire at him as he makes his way closer towards the plans to the Death Star that they are trying to hand off. They’re like football players with no time left on the clock that keep tossing the ball around in hopes of escape, only there’s a Sith Lord cutting his way towards you and Force choking the life out of those he doesn’t run through. It’s an amazing scene that accomplishes making Vader scary again after the prequels and our pop culture have robbed him of his villainy.
As a whole I’m not sure where I stand on Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. I don’t have firm grounding on it yet. I loved Donnie Yen and K-2SO, the return of a scary Darth Vader, and the final battle, but much like Peter Cushing’s face there is something that is off about it. For now at least. But I will trust in the Force for it is my ally. Always.